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TILE-SIG Feature: The Role of Technology in Disciplinary Literacy Acquisition and Instruction

 | Jan 23, 2012
by Dr. Kristine Pytash & Dr. Richard E. Ferdig

Disciplinary literacy has received a tremendous amount of recent attention. Whereas a one-size fits all approach to literacy instruction fails to recognize reading and writing practices unique to particular disciplines, disciplinary literacy provides a means to appreciate and employ strategies appropriate to given content areas. Moje (2008) argues that young adults must learn the practices of experts in the field and the discourse used during those practices. Such an instructional approach can help students learn how knowledge is created and shared within specific disciplines. 

There are at least three ways that technology is integral to disciplinary literacy. First, technology can introduce students to the three tenets of disciplinary literacy: discourses and practices, identities and identifications, and knowledge (Moje, 2008). Technology can be a means to provide students access to each of these three tenets, particularly in areas where they might not normally have access to the identities or to the actual practices of unique disciplines.  Second, technology can be a medium for content area teachers to learn the best practices within disciplinary literacy instruction. Third, technology has become ubiquitous in many disciplines. As such, it forms the thread of the discourse, identity, and knowledge within those disciplines. Said differently, technology moves from the means of instruction in the first two methods to the actual content of the disciplinary literacy instruction in the third example.

Recent research has highlighted this relationship between disciplinary literacy and technology. One example comes from the work of Dr. Michael Manderino at Northern Illinois University. In a paper entitled, "Social Networking as Discursive Practice: Developing Disciplinary Literacy in History", Manderino (2011) studied a group of US History teachers who used a social networking space for students to create fictitious profiles.

Given the author's interest in multi-modal, student-generated artifacts, students were asked to create an authentic historical profile of someone from the 1960's using pictures, video, and music (p. 13). One of the most interesting findings is that the "use of multimodal sources resulted in higher engagement and richer historical meaning making by students... In terms of disciplinary learning, the use of multimodal sources provided deep engagement and helps foster the student to see the complexity of history" (p. 18). 

Such research provides promising findings for the use of 21st century tools in studying, obtaining, and practicing content-specific knowledge and skills. Future research should continue to find ways to understand and differentiate the roles of technology as both medium and content of disciplinary literacy instruction. 


Manderino, M. (2011, April).  Social networking as discursive practice: Developing disciplinary literacy in history.  Symposium paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA. 
Symposium Paper Link (If you are having trouble with this link, try the Google Scholar Link.)

Moje, E.B. (2008). Foregrounding the disciplines in secondary literacy teaching and learning: A call for change. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(2), 96-107.


Dr. Kristine Pytash is an Assistant Professor of Adolescent Literacy Education, Kent State University, kpytash@kent.edu.  Dr. Richard E. Ferdig is a professor of ITEC and the RCET Research Professor at the Research Center for Educational Technology, Kent State University, rferdig@gmail.com. 

This article is part of a series from the Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG)


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